I don’t know if you’ve noticed (huge grin), but creative work means doing stuff you don’t want to, when you don’t want to.
It means writing or painting or editing images or practicing chords even when you don’t wanna.
It means tuning out the chatter that don’t matter – on social media, in your inbox, in your background, in your head.
It means carving out time in your schedule — writing it in your calendar, somewhere, no matter how stuffed with commitments it seems to be.
It means making stuff even when you feel it sucks, it isn’t good enough, it’s not going to sell, people are going to laugh, or judge or attack you.
It means quitting your job, or taking a job, in order to keep creating what you need to create — because you know it’s an important part of your reason for being here, and you’re willing to do what it takes to make that work a priority.
It means standing in the heat of the truth, no matter how uncomfortable it feels, and telling it through your words, through your art.
It means not being a martyr or victim to the circumstances of your life. Cars and appliances break down, kids get sick, and people can be awful and shitty sometimes. These things are always happening at every phase of our lives; falling prey to them as if they’re happening “to” you makes you a victim. Making space in your life to keep going in spite of obstacles makes you a wholehearted and successful creator.
It means gathering friends and mentors who tell it like it is in ways that sustain you and help you stretch and grow as an artist.
It means promising yourself that you’ll keep going, even when it feels like life is conspiring against you to give up (see above note about martyrdom).
It means getting to know yourself in an honest and true way, with no bullshit, no spin, and #nofilter (meditation helps with this; so do therapy and coaching).
It means learning to love yourself in spite of knowing yourself in an honest and true way. Yep; knowing yourself intimately and not letting yourself off the hook when you want to stray from your path does not mean you get to pile drive yourself into the ground. Shame ain’t the creator’s game.
It means learning to be vulnerable and open, both with yourself and others, so that you can then be courageous in sharing your work with the world.
It means having the discipline to keep showing up *and* to take breaks. The work doesn’t make itself; you have to devote time to it. And the creative well doesn’t fill itself; pauses allow your mental and physical energy to return to you.
Sounds like a great gig, huh? Digging deep and doing a bunch of hard stuff when you don’t feel like it? Woo! Sign me up!
Whether you’re a hobbyist or a professional, making things that you feel deeply called to create is one of the best gifts you can give yourself. For us creative types, it’s work that often feels like play — hours can pass and you realize you forgot to eat lunch, when you never forget to eat lunch. If you go deep enough, creative work feels like it’s sent from somewhere else and you are the conduit. This doesn’t happen all the time, but often enough for you to feel that magic and know it’s right to honor it. This is a fantastic feeling. But it’s not all butterflies and rainbows, either; don’t trust anyone who says otherwise. It’s not a full-time slog, but it’s also not a magically unfolding path with no roots to stumble over or landslides forcing you to change course.
If you don’t have a sense of urgency about your creative work, you’ll always find a reason to let excuses take you off the path. We all do it. And yes, there are valid reasons to set our work aside – life can get really big and overwhelming at times. But we creatives need deadlines every step of the way — even those of us with a lava-hot desire to finish a project.
Letting ourselves be led by a sense of urgency that says, “If I don’t make this, I will regret it at the end of my days” helps us to create deadlines along the path to finishing that work. That burning desire also helps us push through obstacles that life can throw our way, as well as those of our own making. It makes the hard work of keeping the faith and getting the hours in worth it.
Ask yourself: If I don’t make this thing, will I regret it on my deathbed? Apply this question to every one of your creative projects, big and small.
- If the answer is yes, it’s time to start blocking out space on your calendar and to set some deadlines (repeat after me: “Creatives need deadlines!”). Maybe it’s time to get some help with that, with an accountability partner, coach, or workgroup (or all of these). Only we can do our work, but we’re not meant to create in a vacuum; accountability, expert advice, and solid feedback are all healthy parts of the creative process. We need different amounts and types of support at different points in our work.
- If the answer is no, maybe it’s time to free yourself from the burden of worrying over whether you should make that thing. Let it go, and see what shows up to take its place. As long as you’re clinging to something that isn’t right for you, or that feels more like a “should” than a calling, that worry and back-and-forth is taking up space that could be better used for other work. And that other work can’t show up as ideas and inspiration if you’re weighed down by indecision. Let it go; see what shows up instead.